Kezia Dugdale: Festivals must be fair on local people

Good on Adam McVey for moving swiftly to demand that council officials remove the 10ft high barriers that were designed to block people's view of Princes Street gardens ahead of a series of concerts.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 14th August 2018, 7:00 am
A view from a number 19 bus over a controversial barrer put up around Princes Street Gardens (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)
A view from a number 19 bus over a controversial barrer put up around Princes Street Gardens (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)

For one thing, they were just plain ugly. Not that it’s easy to make a barrier pleasing to the eye, but these particular efforts had an extra edge of sinister to them.

Aside from the aesthetics, Princes Street Gardens are our gardens in the most literal sense. They are owned by us, the citizens of the town, for the “common good”. That’s for the benefit of all the town’s citizens – not just those with Paloma Faith tickets.

The gardens are recognised as such in law. That’s why, in 2003, an Act of the Scottish Parliament had to be passed in order to allow an extension to the National Galleries to be built upon it.

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This was allowed in part because a national gallery was considered to be for the benefit of everyone. A five-star boutique hotel on the same site would not have fared so well.

So the park is ours and so is an uninhibited view of the castle from Princes Street. This city became my home 15 years ago this month. Even after the passing of all that time, I still gaze in awe at the beauty of the castle and I shouldn’t have to climb on to the upper deck of a number 26 bus to see it.

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Thankfully the barriers are on their way down. Imagine, for a moment though, if the council hadn’t been quite so willing.

What could we as citizens of the city demand for the month of August if there was to be a two-tier approach to the assets of this city?

If the barriers were to stay, could we have slow and fast lanes on the pavements?

Perhaps some on-the-spot fines for tourists taking photos in the wrong lane? What about discounts for residents on buses, because they go slower or in our bars, because the prices are suddenly higher?

Perhaps we could negotiate Nectar points for every time you stop and offer someone directions? I jest, of course.

Much of my MSP mail bag over the past few months has come from city centre residents angry about the proliferation of holiday let flats and they are right to be.

In more recent days, I’ve been struck by the number of people taking the time to contact me about what is commonly referred to as “over-tourism”.

A new phrase for an old town that’s in danger of losing the assets and appeal that makes it so desirable in the first place.

Some have argued that the answer lies in spreading out the festivals over a longer period. I’m not sure that would do anything other than turn a short, sharp pain into a dull, persistent ache.

No, we mustn’t lose sight that this arts festival remains amongst the best in the world and its commercial value is hugely important to the city.

Whether we feel it’s worth it to us, and in particular those who have to live in the middle of it, is a question of fairness.

Finding that sweet spot amidst the magic and the inconvenience. That for me means new regulations to curtail the number and density of holiday lets, it means a tourist tax to invest in the city realm and removing all the barriers from residents own enjoyment of the festival.

Our city leaders will find a much more patient audience before them if they focus on what’s just and fair before the red curtain goes up.